Morgan Ashcom on Skating

1. When did you stop skating?

Between 2005 and 2007.

2. Were you ever really into it? What was that like? What changed?

I was immersed in skating for years. All of my closest friends skated. It's what we did every weekend. I learned a lot about people in this country through skating because it took me to rural towns and metropolitan communities alike. I remember meeting skaters at a handrail on the campus of Liberty University (Jerry Falwell's Christian university in Lynchburg Virginia). They were enrolled in the school and while we didn't think they were like Falwell, we wouldn't have been surprised to see a pocket bible fall out as they finished grinding the rail. One of them had been given community service for having his hair too long, but he didn't care. Turns out he had received a full ride to study there and he wasn't in the position to turn that down. I suspect there were more students like that at Liberty.

So skating was my license to go out and be in places and around people I wouldn't have had experiences with otherwise. The photographer Baldwin Lee once told me that photography could be an opportunity to step into someone else's normal. As time went on, I was having that experience more through photography, and that coincided with my waning interest in skating.

3. What's something most people don't realise about the sport?

The comradery and hospitality within the skating world was so strong, even between strangers. In the late 90s five friends and I set out for New York City from Virginia. Our plan was to stay there for a week but we had no idea where we were going to sleep at night. If all else failed we were going to sleep in the car, but we met a skater who was studying at Pratt and five of his room mates had just left for summer break. We spent the next week in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx skating all day then buying beers at the corner bodega. No one carded us and no one cared if we drank openly in the streets. I was a seventeen year old kid from a dirt road town in Virginia.

That sort of thing was quite common, whether we were down south or up north. Everyone immediately trusted one another, because we were all part of the same small but immensely diverse group.

That bond went beyond hospitality and trust. I used to make videos of talented friends on the East coast, and I can remember a time I was filming a friend in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond was a rough place back then. It had the nation's third highest murder rate. We weren't in the safest neighborhood and there was only three of us. A large crowd surrounded us and the next thing I knew, my vision went out completely. When I came to, someone was trying to pull my backpack off while four other people were hitting me in the side of the head. They were focusing on me because of the camera in my backpack while my two friends were untouched. One friend stepped into the fray, drawing all the blows coming from every angle. I was able to get up and we escaped, but my friend's face was completely smashed in and bloodied. He had a broken nose and two fractures in his skull. We were able to get him to an emergency room and he recovered alright, but he never could breath the same again. I'll never forget what he did for me.

4. Near me there’s an unassuming curb that guys will travel for hours to come and hit just because it’s perfect to grind on. Where was your favourite spot to skate?

I know the situation you're describing too well. One time we drove to Charlotte North Carolina to skate a handrail. We had only a vague idea of its location and the forecast was 100% chance of rain. Locally in Virginia, our best spots were at the University of Virginia. We named the spots after the police who ran us off. There was a perfect set of handrails in a row, a 10 stair followed by a 15 stair. It was officer Bernard's beat so we called the spot Nard.

5. Why do kids skate, now?

I can't say really. There are so many reasons and they're probably different for everyone. For me it was the fact that it wasn't organized by adults and I had a great group of friends. I also enjoyed searching for places that weren’t anything special to most people, but they held a unique importance for us.